Key Takeaways: Healthy Homes Equal Healthier Lives Discussion with HUD Sec. Ben Carson in Housing

On June 8th, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) hosted an event titled “Healthy Homes Equal Healthier Lives: A Discussion with HUD Sec. Ben Carson.” BPC released its report, HUD-HHS Partnerships: A Prescription for Better Health, which offers recommendations on ways the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can better collaborate across programs to tackle the health and housing needs of our nation.

Carson keynoted the event, insisting HUD and HHS could work together with other agencies to address affordable housing issues, avoid program redundancy, and maximize the impact of their limited resources. Carson stated he has talked with HHS Sec. Alex Azar to find areas where the two agencies can better work together to coordinate their efforts.

Carson emphasized the need for a holistic nurturing environment, where evidence from both government agencies is utilized for future policymaking. Data overlay will allow HUD and HHS to concentrate their efforts to extreme areas of need.

Carson also described HUD’s plan for new EnVision Centers, which he depicted as places where a range of low-income supports and services, offered by both the public and private sectors, can be housed under one roof. The centers will provide families receiving HUD assistance with additional support services for health and wellness, education, and other social determinants of health.

Carson also discussed his April proposal to allow housing authorities to impose work requirements on tenants and increase rents. He explained the challenges of working with limited HUD resources of a $41 billion budget. He said additional funding resources have been found elsewhere; therefore, there is no longer a need to triple minimum rent requirements. Policies must be reformed to ensure people are not punished for working to bring their families out of poverty.

Those at the greatest risk for health problems related to insecure housing are the poor, children, people with disabilities, and the elderly. Discussing detrimental effects of lead exposure and asthma, Carson stated “Our people are our biggest resources and really that’s where we should be building policies.”

Following the conversation with Carson, BPC’s Chief Medical Advisor Anand Parekh moderated an expert panel that included:

  • Eileen Fitzgerald, President and CEO, Stewards Affordable Housing for the Future;
  • Donald Moulds, Executive Vice President for Programs, The Commonwealth Fund;
  • Samuel Ross, M.D., Chief Executive Officer, Bon Secours Baltimore Health System.

Each panelist held a unique connection to the areas of health and housing. Ideas throughout the panel discussion covered the need for community outreach, preventative health measures through housing accessibility, and success stories of coordinating resources.

Fitzgerald argued that housing can serve as a platform to increase access to various forms of healthcare needs, reduce hospitalizations and ER visits, and address social determinants of health. Along with housing, some of the most prominent social determinants of health are onsite healthcare, community safety, and food security which she stated are all too often underfunded.

Moulds added that government progress and on-the-ground results are not always equivalent. The role of philanthropy is significant because where government initiative and timing may fall short, philanthropy can come in to seize opportunities. Similarly, Ross noted the importance of community engagement to diagnose major problems and understand the challenges at hand.

On behavioral health, Fitzgerald pushed the need to create a positive environment that reduces the stigma of mental health issues and facilitates access to health care services. The opioid epidemic flooding communities across the country sits as the intersection of behavioral health and safe housing.

To healthcare leaders, Ross stressed that those experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity are at higher risk of mental and physical health issues. In many cases, these health problems can develop into lifelong battles. Safe and stable housing is a tool in preventing illnesses caused or exacerbated by lead, mold, household pests, and other environmental hazards.

Agencies working toward the improvement of quality of life ought to work in tandem. The panelists agreed investing in housing is a healthcare solution, and many government and private sector entities can play a role in building a better HUD-HHS relationship. Simply put, quality of life improves when coordination and resources are brought together to better a community.